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Korean, Chinese foreign ministers discuss coronavirus, Xi’s Seoul visit

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during thir meeting on Saturday held on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during thir meeting on Saturday held on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Saturday and agreed to cooperate to combat COVID-19 and proceed with preparations for Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul in the first half of the year.

“I and Minister Wang reaffirmed that there are no changes in our plans for Xi’s visit to Korea,” Kang told reporters after the bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the annual Munich Security Conference. “As we’ve agreed, it will take place in the first half of the year, but as to the exact date, we need further coordination.”

Her comment addressed speculation that Xi’s visit to Seoul could be delayed as Beijing struggles to contain the respiratory disease now officially called COVID-19, which is associated with the new coronavirus believed to have originated from the Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

Xi’s visit, if realized, will be first in six years and is widely expected to bring about a thaw in Seoul-Beijing relations, which have been chilly since South Korea’s decision in 2017 to host an advanced missile system from the US.

During the talk, Kang expressed her condolences to the Chinese victims of COVID-19 and her hope that the spread of the virus would be contained as soon as possible. She also asked for Beijing’s continued cooperation to protect South Korean nationals and businesses in China, according to Seoul’s Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, Wang expressed his gratitude to the South Korean government for its support, and emphasized that his country would communicate closely and cooperate with South Korea to deal with the virus.

On the margins of the three-day Munich Security Conference from Friday to Sunday, Kang held bilateral and trilateral talks with around 10 countries, including the US, Japan, Germany, Canada, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Spain and Lithuania.

Kang held a trilateral meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Saturday, following up on their previous talk in San Francisco in January.

The three top diplomats discussed ways to cooperate on North Korea and the nuclear situation there. They also exchanged views on global issues, including COVID-19 and the situation in the Middle East, and agreed to seek ways for the three allies to cooperate at the regional and global levels. 

“In regard to the nuclear negotiations with North Korea, we shared the consensus that this deadlocked situation between the US and North Korea shouldn’t continue for long,” said Kang. “As North Korea has closed the border due to COVID-19, we should discuss how to usher North Korea back to the negotiating table after overcoming the situation. Today, due to COVID-19, we didn’t get to have a deeper conversation, but we will continue to communicate at various levels.”

Kang also had a brief pull-aside with Pompeo after the three-way talks, to exchange views on North Korea and ongoing negotiations on the Special Measures Agreement, a bilateral deal on how to share the costs of stationing the 28,500-strong US Forces Korea here.

“There are still gaps between the two countries, but through the working-level negotiations, we have broadened mutual understanding,” she said. “We have reaffirmed the political will at the minister level for the negotiating team to meet and reach an agreement.”

Kang also met separately with Motegi, discussing the ongoing trade row, the forced labor issue and COVID-19. She had asked for Japan’s cooperation to help South Korean nationals locked inside a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama Port following an onboard outbreak of COVID-19. There are 14 South Koreans -- none of them infected -- stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where 355 out of 3,700 passengers and crew members are infected. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)

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